LVI 2017 Day 1: Falcons atop Elite division’s pool

LAS VEGAS - The USA Falcons completed the first day of the four-day Las Vegas Invitational with a perfect 2-0 record Thursday, defeating Arukas Queen and Florida RDA in the "Women's Elite 7's Division."

Sylvia Braaten and Sarah Buonopane each scored twice for Emilie Bydwell's developmental squad, which finishes pool play Friday morning just before Richie Walker's Women's Eagles Sevens open HSBC USA Sevens at nearby Sam Boyd Stadium.

"We did what we needed to do today so we'll come back out tomorrow morning looking to be 3-0 at the end of pool play, which is what our goal is," Bydwell said. "I was really happy today with the work at the tackle area - the shoulder contact. That's something they've been working on at the Training Center, so the girls showed here that they're aware that's one of the things that the team's been focusing on. We were able to turn the ball over a lot."

Cheta Emba, replaced in the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series team by Samantha Pankey prior to Thursday's competition, won the opening restart for the Falcons against Arukas Queen and drew a penalty before quickly taking the ball across the try line. A turnover won in the breakdown in the third minute led Braaten over the line, and a defensive stand in their own end of the field resulted in another forced turnover for Buonopane to bring the halftime score to 21-0.

A gain-line break by Arukas Queen in the opening minutes of the second half forced the Falcons' defense into scramble mode, from which it recovered to reset in front of the try line. Though they made several one-on-one tackles within 10 meters of the white paint, the Falcons conceded their only try of the day with the scoring player tackled into the try zone. Emba took on three defenders in the 11th minute to set up Buonopane's second try of the game, and Ashley Perry benefitted from a nifty intercept and offload from Braaten for the 33-5 victory.

Florida RDA had showcased its pace in its first matchup with Stars Blue out at Silver Bowl Fields, and offered the Falcons a different challenge in their second matchup. The Falcons began the match without the ball and pushed their opponent backwards before conceding a penalty, from which Florida kicked for a lineout. The Falcons pounced on the set piece and made short work of the spread defense to send Nate Serevi under the posts. The half ended without further scores and the Falcons failed to finish off a break in the ninth minute to keep the score at 5-0.

Nicole Strasko took the reins from a penalty in Florida territory a minute later and finished off a set of crash-ball runs to increase the lead to 12-0, and Braaten brought the final score to 17-0 with a try in the final minute.

The Falcons are not resting on their laurels with two wins from two, knowing pool play and the knockout rounds to come will provide less room for error.

"I think we're not connecting quite yet on attack and defense," Bydwell admitted. "We have individual attacking players right now but we're not able to stretch the defense because we're not attacking as a unit.

"It's also about becoming more confident in the defensive system because a lot of them don't have a lot of experience in it. Some do, some don't. We apply a lot of pressure in our defense and take space when the ball's in the air. We'll limit teams' opportunities more when we start feeling comfortable with that, and it'll just happen through the course of the tournament."

The Falcons will play Stars Blue in their final match of Pool A Friday at 8 a.m. PT, with a potential Cup Quarterfinal also on the docket.

USA Women's Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

7. Cassidy Bargell

10. Megan Foster

14. Sylvia Braaten

15. Jessica Warner

16. Sarah Buonopane

18. Cheta Emba

22. Nicole Strasko

26. Alena Olsen

28. Jennine Duncan

32. Ashley Perry

33. Tia Blythe

34. Asinate Serevi

USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

v. Arukas Queen - W 33-5

v. Florida RDA - W 17-0

v. Stars Blue - Friday, March 3 @ 11 a.m. ET